AVFTI on action, intervention, support for survivors

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 5:57 PM

With Amity Fest II, a music festival held at Basement Transmissions in Erie on Jan. 27, Amity Threads partnered with the A Voice For the Innocent (AVFTI) organization in order to raise awareness for survivors of sexual abuse and assault. The organization works heavily within the music, arts and entertainment scene as a resource for support and awareness. AVFTI officially launched in 2012 and achieved non-profit status in 2014. 

Jamie Sivrais is the founder of AVFTI and is not afraid to share his story with others. This has led to many people opening up to him about their own stories, and that is when the idea for the organization began to form. 

“I was abused when I was a kid by my dad for three years. I told my mom, and when I told her, she really reacted the way I think people should react. She let me know on a daily basis that it wasn’t my fault, [that] she was proud of me, she loved me, she supported me; [she] got me in counseling and all that,” he explained. “Because of how she responded, I was never ashamed of my story. I would share it in high school and college, and in different bands I’ve played in.” 

He continued: “Often times, people would tell me a story back. They would say, ‘You’re the first person I’ve ever told. I didn’t know where help was available. I didn’t know where to turn. I tried to tell somebody and they didn’t believe me.’ I hated that people felt like they didn’t know where they could turn.” 

Sivrais explained that when he discovered To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, he thought that there should be an organization dedicated to helping victims of sex abuse. 

“In my mind, it turned into, ‘You need to do something about sex abuse,’” explained Sivrais. 

He began to put the idea into action when his band broke up and it was time to try something new. Through mutual friends, he met Eric Boggs, who developed the website for AVFTI and who is currently the vice president. The company started out with just them “sitting in an IHOP, talking about what we wanted it to be,” recalled Sivrais. 

AVFTI is not exclusively an organization for the music scene, however, as it strives towards having a presence in all areas of entertainment and connecting to anyone who may need it. 

“We want to be where people are. Now typically, the people that we find our message resonates the most with are involved with counter-culture movement or community,” Sivrais said. 

In addition to working within the pop-punk, metal, indie and hip-hop music scenes in Cincinnati, the organization has also worked at events such as comic and cosplay conventions. 

They support movements like “Cosplay’s Not Consent,” which focuses on keeping women safe at comic conventions. 

AVFTI also supports the LGBTQ+ community, and has been to a few pride parades and events in Cincinnati.

When asked what someone should do in case they are witnessing sexual harassment or assault, Sivrais broke it down to a three point action plan for bystander intervention. Before going into it, he prefaced it with the challenges of just calling someone out or making a scene. 

“We understand that there are lots and lots of obstacles going into this. People like to say a lot of times, ‘Just go up and stop it; you’re being silent!’ and they don’t consider that they themselves have probably been silent at some point and it’s hard.”

So, what you can do is direct, delegate and distract.

Direct, as Sivrais exlained, is an opportunity to divert the harasser’s attention, or direct attention to the situation. 

“Direct is a wonderful option if you are a Type A personality who doesn’t mind going right up to someone and saying, ‘Hey, you need to stop,’ or going to the other side of that and going up to the victim and asking if they’re alright.” 

Delegating is an option where you get someone else involved and bring the issue to their attention. Calling security, asking your friend with a fearless personality, or letting one of the victim’s friends know what’s going on are all options for delegating. 

As for distracting, it’s a way to intervene by just going up and talking to the victim, or even the harasser. 

“Just going up to the girl or person being harassed and asking if they want to grab a cigarette, even if you don’t smoke [is distracting]. Go up and act like you’re drunk, cause a big scene to draw attention to it. You could ask the guy’s name and tell them, ‘Somebody’s looking for you in the back.’”

Sivrais reminded that if we think we are seeing harassment, other people are likely seeing it too. He explained the importance of the helping model, meaning that if one person helps, someone else might step forward too. 

When asked what one should do if they find themselves being harassed or in a situation where they feel unsafe, Sivrais stated: “So much depends on the circumstances. I want to clarify that in no circumstances is it okay for a human being to be harassed. 

What I mean is that going to a show and being harassed is way different than going to work and being harassed. It’s different than going to school and being harassed. I would first find someone you can talk to about the situation, who may or may not be connected to it. If there’s no one that you feel you can talk to, go to avfti.org and we’re there. It’s free, it’s anonymous and you don’t have to give names. People share their stories, ask questions there and there are trained volunteers that will give you advice. 

Just find people that can be a support system, or talk to us, [as] that’s why we’re there.” 

Sivrais sees a change in present day, with movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp taking hold.

“Just like in the 1970s, people could still drink and drive. You would get pulled over, and you could tell the officer that it wasn’t his business how much you drank. When society wants to change, it will change very quickly. And I think we’re heading towards that change with the issue of sexual assault.” 

You’ll find several of the Amity Fest II artists interviewed below. We discussed different influences, upcoming releases, and what musicians can do to combat the issue of sexual harassment in the scene.

Hanguns Interview

I briefly had the opportunity to interview Jake Langley of Handguns at Amity Fest II on January 27th, 2018. The music festival benefitted survivors of sexual abuse and assault and was held at Basement Transmissions in Erie, PA. Langley is a guitarist and member of the original Handguns lineup, which has seen several changes since the release of the “Don’t Bite Your Tongue” EP in 2011. We talked about the event and what’s in store for the restored Harrisburg band. 

Q: Your last release was in 2015, are you guys working on anything right now? 

Our last release was in 2015, but our next release is not slated yet. We’re working on it now. The band just got back together, so we’re not quite there yet, but we have recorded some of the music.  

Q: What are some of your artistic inspirations for this album? 

The band’s been through a lot of ups and downs over the past two years because of member changes, and there’s basically another full lineup change so it’s just about pressing on. 

Q: What’s your favorite song to play live? 

I just have to pick one because I like them all, so, Early Retirement.  

Q: How did you find out about this event? 

Braden (Docherty) hit me up and asked me to play. I was also on Warped Tour with the record label tent last year with Jamie from A Voice for the Innocent and he’s actually one of my good friends.  

Q: What can bands do to help combat the issue of sexual harassment in the scene?  

Not sexually harass people. Obviously, if you see something, say something. It starts at your doorstep, with the way you behave. 


Rare Candy Interview

Amity Fest II hosted several pop punk and indie musicians from NWPA, Ohio, and even had  Chicagoan solo act of Alex Wieringa, otherwise known as Rare Candy, on the bill. Amity Fest II was a benefit concert for survivors of sexual abuse and assault, and was held at Basement Transmissions in Erie, PA. I had the opportunity to chill for a minute and grill Rare Candy about his music.  

Q: What instruments do you play? 

I play acoustic guitar and sing, but there’s banjo, upright bass, and harmonica-really folky, twangy stuff on the record, with a full band hopefully soon! 

Q: How long have you been playing music? 

I’ve been playing since I was in seventh grade, for about 12 years. I’ve been playing as Rare Candy for about 2.5 to 3 years.  

Q: What have you released so far? Anything new in the works? 

I have an EP out called Cream Soda, out February of last year and a split with this girl called Little Crown because we both decided to release ukelele songs and it’s a little more chimey and sing-along-ish. I have another split coming out with this dude called Lifehold, who’s from Canada, which will be out in a month or two. Then I am working on another studio album in the Springtime.  

Q: What’s your approach to writing music? 

I’ve taken my songwriting a little more seriously, and it’s always been based on personal experience, but now it hits a little closer to home. I definitely try to make sure my harmonies and guitars are a lot more riff driven. I like to make it sound like I’m not just one person.  

Q: What are some influences and inspirations behind your music?  

Growing up, I was a really huge Jack White fan because he was doing that indie-punk thing with The White Stripes for awhile, and then when he broke off and started doing more folk-country-rock, I was a huge fan of that. I also definitely take a lot of influence from NeverShoutNever and Mayday Parade and other earlier pop punk acts just because it’s a lot of what I listened to in high school. 


Riviera Interview

As I was released into the band hangout lair of Erie’s Basement Transmissions at Amity Fest II, a benefit concert for sexual assault and abuse survivors on January 27th, I had the opportunity to interview half of pop punk ensemble Riviera. I sat down with Mike Higinbotham-Vox and Zac Anderson, both guitarists, to ask about writing music and their sound.  

Q: Where are you guys from? 

Mike: We are from West Virginia. You know how it’s like a middle finger? We’re like right in the middle of it, in Morgantown.  

Q: Any new releases in the works? 

Mike: We just released our debut EP about a year ago and we just finished up recording our first full length album. It’s in post-production right now, and we’re just putting the final touches on it. 

Q: What is your approach to writing music? 

Mike: Usually a lot of songs start off with guitar or drum riffs. It keeps everything fresh and similar, but different enough.  

Q: How long have you been playing music? 

Mike: I’ve been singing seriously since my freshman year of high school. My mom and brother were always really into it, and my dad is a really good singer too. I actually found a video of my mom singing at a Cavs game and my brother tried out for American Idol, stuff like that. I’ve been playing guitar since my sophomore year of high school. I always had a guitar growing up but I didn’t really play till then. 

Zac: I started learning guitar in seventh grade and I taught myself, so I didn’t actually progress and get good until my junior year of high school/almost college. All I played was heavy pop-punk music, then when I met them, they continued playing heavy pop punk music (laughs). But it made me a better guitarist. I never even played chords before, just power chords.  

Mike: Yeah, that’s one thing that really separates us from other pop punk music, we actually use real, full chords.  

Q: What are some influences and inspirations behind your music? 

Mike: People say we sound like a lot of bands, but it can be summed up pretty easily if My Chemical Romance, Foo Fighters, and Fall Out Boy decided to form a supergroup and write original music.  

Zac: Everybody in our band has their own thing. Like I’m into metalcore music, he’s into As I lay dying, old-school music, our bassist is into old punk and Green Day. Everyone in our band likes really heavy music, but we play pop-punk music.  


Harbour Interview 

Last, but certainly not least, Canadian pop punkers Harbour came out to show some support for survivors of sexual assault at Amity Fest II and for their friends in Riviera. Jamie Mittendorf, Mike Bielawski, and Ric Peterson shared some of their band history with me as well as a whole lotta memes. 

Q: Have you guys released anything recently or are working on anything new? 

Mike: We just put one out out called “Dead In the Water.” 

Ric: It had the best tour art ever.  

Mike: It’s us, dead, in the water! And we released that about a month, month and a half old.  

Q: So what genre are you guys? 

Mike: We’re Pod-punk band, as in Tide Pod-punk. We inhale all these things and have a cool design. We’re actually starting a Tide-Pod awareness fund. That’s what our tip jar is for.  

Q: How long have you been a band? 

Jamie: Five years? Six years?  

Mike: Five plus one years.  

Q: What’s the difference between touring in the states and touring in Canada?  

Mike: Much better food. Your Taco Bell versus our Taco Bell: wow. We just got one in our hometown, and it does not compare. Even the worst Taco Bell we’ve been to here is 10 times better than the one we have there. Oh, and your guys’s roads at night are not well lit, I gotta say. In Canada, that’s a thing.  

Zac: Your exits are very short, very sharp. We have to slam on the g*dd*mn breaks.  

Mike: It’s like that meme where the road goes straight but also turns, that’s pretty much AMERICA.  

Q: How did you guys meet and start playing together? 

Ric: So we met about six years ago. I was just showing up at local shows, and so did they, and it just kind of worked out. We all had different backgrounds and histories. Me and Jamie have been hanging out with the same kind of bands, like punk rock, pop punk. Our one guitar player Zac has played in a bunch of metal bands and is kind of our resident metalhead. And our drummer loves Underoath. He will tell you they’re his favorite band and you won’t even have to ask him.  

The first half of this interview series was published in Issue 14 of The Spectator. Livia Homerski is the arts editor for The Spectator and can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: amity fest

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